With Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher taught me to hate the hero I loved for so many years. Batman was no longer a hero, he was a chicken-headed excuse to unleash badly delivered puns and Mae West impersonations into the world. Much like that childhood sweetheart who moved away, Batman had broken my heart. Fortunately time heals all wounds, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins has shown me that, also like that childhood sweetheart, I never actually knew what love was until now.
Needless to say, Christopher Nolan is the real hero of Batman Begins. Sure, some guy dressed up as a giant bat dominates the screen time and makes fans everywhere giggle with overwhelming glee, but it’s Nolan working from behind the scenes who really makes this newly reinvisioned Batman work exceptionally well.
Nolan uses Batman Begins as the opporunity to really tell an origin story about Batman; something that has never been done on the big screen. Sure, we’ve seen Ma and Pa Wayne gunned down in other movies before, but we’ve never really seen the process that leads Bruce Wayne to become Batman. Even the comics have been somewhat grey in that area, with several different takes on Batman’s origins before he became a Legend, leaving Nolan and comic-book-movie godsend David Goyer plenty of wiggle room for their story.
Begins starts with Bruce Wayne as a young man, somewhere in the orient as a prisoner - caught for a crime he was assisting in during his endeavor to understand the criminal element. He is found by a mysterious man named Ducard who offers Wayne answers to his questions on the behalf of Ra’s Al Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows. Wayne finds training from the league a la segments that should make the Highlander franchise envious. Eventually realizing the League’s goals are not in tandem with his own, Bruce returns to Gotham City and attempts to save the city from the squalor that has begun to eat away at the metropolis.
Through flashbacks we see the key event that molds Bruce’s future - the death of his parents. However, we also see his parents while they are alive for the first time in a Batman film, and that makes all the difference. By showing us what good people the Waynes are, Nolan gives us a real tragedy in their death - an emotional blow no other Batman movie has managed to date. This one little act makes for complete understanding of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Frankly, if Bruce hadn’t done something, I as an audience member would be compelled to avenge his parent’s death.
There isn’t a weak member of the cast in the film which, I suppose, should be expected, considering the number of “A-listers” working on the movie. Christian Bale brings real heart to Bruce Wayne and a real danger to the Batman side of the personality. Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman add humor as they fill out parts of the world as Bruce’s employee Lucius Fox and Batman’s partner Sergeant (future Commissioner) Gordon but they also show that Bruce and Batman have support - he’s not a one man army, he’s just the biggest part of his fight against crime. Liam Neeson brings his fatherly-mentor ways, as well as a refreshing touch of mysterious malevolence to his part as Ducard. Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, and Katie Holmes, who really isn’t as bad as fans have complained, round out the spectacular cast.
More then anything else, what Christopher Nolan has accomplished is the first Batman movie that feels like a movie, not just a comic book adapted for the screen. He bases the story, the setting, and the powers of the heroes and villains in reality. There’s no over-the-top freeze rays or brain enhancements here and we are shown how Batman accomplishes his feats before he does them. Moreover, Gotham City looks and feels like a real city instead of the statue-ridden, shrouded in darkness locale shown in prior films. It’s as if Nolan somehow found a way to cut the bonds of making a “comic-book movie” and was finally able to make a flat-out good movie instead.
The only real complaint I have about Batman Begins is that, at two and a half hours long, it’s still not enough. The movie moves along so well that by its end it feels like no time at all has passed, and it sets up the next film so beautifully that I’m still ready for more as the end credits roll. Thank you Mr. Nolan for teaching me I can love again. Now hurry back with the next Bat-Chapter so I have even more to appreciate!
The DVD release of Batman Begins comes in two flavors: single disc for everyone who just wants the movie, and two-disc, for those who want to delve into the world of bonus materials.
The first disc of this two disc set contains the movie, which looks and sounds beautiful. Also included is the Jimmy Fallon intro skit from the MTV Movie Awards that he hosted. Essentially it’s Fallon mugging for the camera intercut with footage from the movie. Don’t hold that against the set, it’s usually a pleasure to see these sorts of things included. It’s not Batman Begins’s fault that Jimmy Fallon sucks.
The second disc is where the real meat of the set is, with tons of featurettes on various topics ranging from the development of the script, with Nolan and Goyer working off Nolan’s garage, to Christian Bale’s take on Batman and Bruce Wayne and the amount of weight he had to gain and lose in preparation for the role. The featurettes are well assembled and really interesting. Each featurette focuses enough on one topic that they make the most of their seven to ten minutes in length without becoming boring.
What really is frustrating about the second disc however, is the method that’s used to get to each of the featurettes. The disc is set up like an interactive comic strip. You read each page and can navigate your curser on to points in the strip. The problem with this is the points aren’t easily definable for the most part, so you find yourself pressing all around on your remote on each page hoping to find something to access. Included with all of these featurettes are easter eggs that aren’t advertised on the box, but are accessed exactly like the rest of the content, so I don’t exactly consider them “hidden”, unless you consider everything to be hidden, which is exactly my complaint about this.
If that’s not enough, some of the content is repeated, so you might highlight the image of the tumbler and click on it for the documentary about that, but then later the word “tumbler” highlights and takes you to the exact same featurette. Fortunately at the end of the interactive comic book there’s a comprehensive list of the featurettes on the disc, but since it comes at the end you’ve already worked your way through part of the comic before getting there. It’s an attempt to create a unique method of navigating a disc, but it’s not a good attempt, which is a shame. I’d like to see more creativity in disc navigation. This just isn’t it.
The two-disc set also includes a mini comic book that contains several of Batman’s stories, ranging from the first Bob Kane original Batman comics to a chapter of “The Long Halloween”, one of Batman’s more popular stories. Typically added in comic books aren’t of much interest to me, but I like this one because it contains so much that the movie is build upon.
For a two disc set, this release is lacking a few things I normally would like to see. There’s no commentary track by Nolan or Goyer, although the tidbits they give in the featurettes make up for it. There are no deleted scenes or outtakes (you know working with these costumes and props there had to be a few bloopers in there somewhere). It feels like the second disc comes up a little short for a separate release from the single-disc, movie only versions, although that could just be my desire for more. Like the movie, I want to see everything from behind the scenes. Put a camcorder recording raw footage and show me sixty-some days of that!
Batman Begins is a monumental new chapter in the evolution of Batman in the movies. I would like to say the DVD release is the same, but the comic book interface of the movie just doesn’t work, and the content feels a bit lacking in places. Still, this is a “must own” film, if for no other reason then to just watch the beauty of the film over and over again.